WASHINGTON – For Republicans in the House of Representatives, New England’s political landscape looks about as fertile as the upper slopes of Mount Katahdin or Mount Washington.
But any alpine biologist will tell you there’s still enough soil above the tree line to support plant life. And the head of the House Republicans’ campaign machine insists his party isn’t giving up on New England in 2014, even though the region’s entire House delegation currently sits across the aisle.
“It is something we are very focused on because we have had it before. And the Democrats have had it,” Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, said last week. “We win some of these seats one cycle, they win them back the next cycle, back and forth. And I think there’s an opportunity to build on our past victories and win some of these seats.”
And one they are keeping an eye on? Maine’s 2nd District — that is, if the current occupant, Rep. Mike Michaud, decides to seek a first term as governor instead of a seventh term as congressman.
“Any open seat we take a second and third look at, certainly,” Walden said. “And Maine-2, that’s one that we looked at last time and it didn’t quite turn out quite like we thought it might. But … certainly that’s one that we would be very interested in.”
As for the rest of New England, none of the districts is on the NRCC’s current list of “red zone” races. But New Hampshire and Massachusetts each have two districts on the expanded list of 40 or 50 potential races.
In New Hampshire, Walden said he believes Democrats Carol Shea-Porter and Ann Kuster are vulnerable. That’s because both unseated Republican incumbents last election but received higher “unfavorable” than “favorable” ratings in a recent WMUR Granite State Poll, albeit by just 1 percentage point in both cases.
“Again, it gets back to who runs, how you put together the race, and why recruitment matters,” Walden said. “But I am very comfortable up in New England and I think we need to be, as a party, very active in recruiting candidates in those districts.”
Two Republicans represent New England in the Senate: Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.
ABOLISH THE IRS?
One of Maine’s representatives to the Republican National Committee sees opportunity in the current scandal over potential political bias at the Internal Revenue Service against tea party and conservative groups.
Mark Willis, Maine’s Republican national committeeman, plans to submit a resolution at the RNC’s August meeting in Boston to abolish the IRS. That’s long been a goal of some conservatives and libertarians who also oppose the whole idea of an income tax.
Among those who have advocated for ending the IRS is former congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, whom Willis and other members of Maine’s GOP delegation supported — or attempted to support — at last year’s Republican National Convention in Tampa.
“The goal will be to abolish the IRS. What, if anything, will replace it is up to legislators to figure out,” Willis said in an interview last week. “The bottom line is the IRS has run its course.”
Willis said the current IRS scandal — in which some employees are accused of subjecting tea party and conservative groups to more scrutiny than other groups seeking tax-exempt status — has only confirmed the suspicion among some that the IRS “wasn’t an honest broker.”
Willis’ idea, while likely dead on arrival among many moderates and liberals, has some support in Congress. Earlier this year, a group of House Republicans reintroduced the Fair Tax Act of 2013, which would eliminate the IRS. Included among the 64 current sponsors are House Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas.
SEX ASSAULT HEARINGS COMING UP
A Senate committee plans to begin working through a growing list of bills dealing with sexual assaults in the military when Congress returns from the Memorial Day recess.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, as well as the top-ranking officers from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, are all slated to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 4.
Last week, Maine Sen. Susan Collins held a news conference with three other Senate and House members to unveil a bill that would require a court-martial or dishonorable discharge for military personnel found guilty of rape or sexual assault.
The sweeping legislation would also eliminate the military’s five-year statute of limitations on sexual assaults, allow commanders to transfer the alleged perpetrators while the case is adjudicated and eliminate commanders’ ability to reduce or overturn convictions for major crimes.
“I want to get something done on this issue,” Collins said, explaining her co-sponsorship of several different bills advocating different approaches to what she calls an “epidemic” in the military. “I want to make sure we have a lot of different ideas on the table.”
MAINERS ON THE USS MAINE
Finally, in honor of Memorial Day, I thought it fitting to remember a few Mainers whose sacrifice became a rallying cry for action more than a century ago — and who now lie in a special area of Arlington National Cemetery.
The USS Maine was not built in its namesake state, but several Maine natives were serving on the ship when it exploded and sank in the harbor of Havana, Cuba, on Feb. 15, 1898. The incident helped propel the U.S. into the Spanish-American War.
Nearly 230 of the 266 crew members who were killed are buried near the mast and the bell of their ship at the USS Maine Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.
Two of the Mainers are identified on headstones: Millard F. Harris from Boothbay Harbor and William Tinsman from the East Deering section of Portland. It is likely that some of the others Mainers who died on the Maine — Clarence Lowell of South Gardiner, Bernard Lynch of Portland and Frank Talbot of Bath — are among the 167 crew members at Arlington whose identities were unknown at the time of burial.
Martin Webber of Bar Harbor and John Bloomer of East Deering were injured but survived the blast, according to records.
Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at (207) 317-6256 or at:
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